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Big Project for College

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Posted: Friday, October 12, 2012 4:00 pm

If all goes according to plans and sufficient money can be raised, Beloit College will transform the hulking power plant along the Rock River into a gleaming new activity center for students.

The college has not yet acquired Blackhawk Generating Station from Wisconsin Power and Light Co., a division of Alliant Energy. However, Alliant and Beloit College officials both say they are deep in discussions toward a redevelopment agreement on the property.

President Scott Bierman said the Beloit College Board of Trustees has authorized the administration to complete due diligence on the project and work with Alliant Energy to forge an agreement.

“This is a big deal for the board to move forward,” Bierman told the Beloit Daily News.

Included in the process is environmental testing of the site and its old coalyard.

“It’s been an industrial site for a long time,” Bierman said, adding, “to date there have been no surprises.”

Generally, with brownfield projects, environmental concerns come into play when the existing ground structure is disturbed for foundations or new buildings. Surface work, such as creating parking lots, usually does not raise concerns. The current expectation is that Beloit College extensively would remodel the Blackhawk building and create parking space without disturbing the subsurface soil.

The project would create what currently is being referred to as the “Activity and Recreation Center.” More “casually,” Bierman said, the college community is calling it “The Powerhouse.”

Among student facilities the site would house are a fitness center, swimming pool, indoor running track, health and wellness programs, food services, flexible meeting space and what officials are calling “big open space” suitable to multiple uses.

The large open space would be located toward the north of the building. The south side of the building would include the pool at the lower level, topped by a green open roof. Upper levels of the building would include food services and the running track, with meeting and special event space at the highest points. These upper levels would feature glass expanses providing one of the best riverfront views in Beloit, officials said.

The space is being created with an eye toward community opportunities to use it as well, officials said.

Initial estimates call for a $30 million project, Bierman said. He vowed the administration will secure all necessary funding without adding debt to Beloit College before the first work begins.

“I have unbridled enthusiasm for the project,” Bierman said. “It feels like the right thing for the college, and the right thing for the town.”

Included in the project will be demolition of the old fieldhouse located at the south end of the Flood Arena and sports center building.

Additionally, Bierman said an elevated walkway is anticipated running roughly from the north end of Flood Arena across Pleasant Street to connect with the new activity center.

Bierman said he was excited about how the center would connect the college with the history of the community and its riverfront, creating a constant reminder of that connection through its use. He also said the project will be a good fit with riverfront improvements made over the years by the City of Beloit and Beloit 2020.

“It’s our aspiration this project will go a long way toward completing a bookend” with riverfront improvements, Bierman said.

He estimated Beloit College and Alliant Energy are a few months away from completing an acquisition deal, and that fund-raising and construction phases would lead to a four-year completion schedule.

Patricia Kampling, chairman, president and CEO of Alliant Energy, echoed Bierman’s enthusiasm in a prepared statement.

“Wisconsin Power and Light Company, an Alliant Energy company, is excited to be partnering with Beloit College and working through the details of a potential agreement for the Blackhawk site,” she said. “The college’s vision for the transformation of this riverfront site into a state of the art student recreation and activity center that will benefit students for generations to come is very impressive and WPL is proud to be part of this effort.

“While there are still many details to work out,” Kampling said, “WPL is committed to working together with Beloit College to try to make this vision a reality.”

Competition is fierce among institutions of higher education for recruiting students these days, and families demand first-class amenities and facilities. National studies have shown student fitness and activity centers rank high on the list of desired facilities.

“Students expect it,” Bierman said. “We live in the upper Midwest” and cold winters make appropriate indoor facilities a necessity.

He said the redeveloped Blackhawk site would be “a great recruiting tool and nobody else has anything like it.”

Beloit City Manager Larry Arft said he was “very excited to hear the college board of trustees has authorized the president to move forward with final negotiations to acquire the old power plant from Alliant Energy to be repurposed. This is a unique opportunity for the college to create another high quality facility for the campus while contributing to the city’s continuing city center revitalization.”

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  • billtinder posted at 3:55 pm on Fri, Oct 19, 2012.

    billtinder Posts: 4908

    The district has a 2 million dollar short fall going into the new school project and the only option offered so far has been the pathetic Morgan school site the doesn't appear to be popular.

    So with that thought in mind, I assumed, perhaps wrongfully that some prioritizing on what is truly necessary in this overall project would have to take place. I place a higher value on the new school then I do on say: a work-out center or tennis courts. I believe a repaired pool could allow for the daily activities ( so that our kids won't drown like the many thousands of reported drownings of kids who aren't fortunate enough to have pools in their schools) Oh, my heart just cries out for those poor folks in Orfordville and Broadhead for the losses they must endure- they should probably get a pool.
    Beloit could probably save money by fixing the pool they've got and schedule their meets at the new college pool.
    This temporary solution could be employed until the school project is completed properly and then the luxuries could go forward when it becomes clearer just how much money remains.

    Or perhaps you favor a greater tax burden instead?

  • RicksterM posted at 8:58 am on Fri, Oct 19, 2012.

    RicksterM Posts: 71

    You can't really be serious.
    Swimming is one of the most important parts of the phys ed., water safety and after-school programming. No one risks dying for not knowing how to play (pick any other sport). The pool gets a LOT of use throughout the day and week. The college would rightfully demand first priority for their own needs. Would they give up that volume of access? How would a district work into remaining available time? Of course neither party was interested. They discussed for the sake of being open to considerations and possibilities. It's obvious to me though why it would not work for either.

    Are you proposing that students walk from Middle St. down to Porter, across the bridge then down Pleasant, in WI winters? Or are you proposing that students enter and exit each facility to board buses the district would pay for, still in WI winters and fresh from a pool. This is obviously knee jerk and not really well thought out.

  • billtinder posted at 11:32 am on Thu, Oct 18, 2012.

    billtinder Posts: 4908

    I agree with PWC.
    a collaboration between the high school and the college could result in a facility that surpasses anything currently offered by any other midwestern colleges, satisfy the needs of both schools and save both parties money in the process. This would also buy some time to allow for an economic recovery, (just as soon as we elect someone to office who knows what he's doing) and allow for a state of the art high school facility, when the revenue flow is stronger.

  • PWC posted at 5:48 pm on Sat, Oct 13, 2012.

    PWC Posts: 770

    When the school district asked the superintendent to discuss working with the college as far as a pool, he said they were not interested. Is it too late to have someone discuss some sort of partnership with the college and save taxpayers a few million dollars? After all, it will be located just a ways down the river.

  • shannon47 posted at 9:50 pm on Fri, Oct 12, 2012.

    shannon47 Posts: 4

    I don't see the closing of Pleasant Ave as a consequence of the project. A pedestrian overpass would likely be in the plans instead. It would be far more upscale and in line with current construction thought concerning the safety of pedestrians.

  • Mentor397 posted at 8:34 pm on Fri, Oct 12, 2012.

    Mentor397 Posts: 1642

    So, in a few years we'll be looking at the imminent closure of that part of Pleasant Ave then?


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